About The Mittens

Wild-eyed riders at the gates of oblivion and we take no prisoners.

The power of gratitude

We’ve all had our priorities shifted here in Christchurch by recent events. Once the fact really sank in that we live in a place where any second, with absolutely no warning, the earth can rise up roaring under our feet and the walls come tumbling down, we had to accept certain realities, like ultimate lack of control, quite differently.

I mean, sure we can control our day to day realities up to a point, but the big things, the life and death stuff, that’s pretty much out of our hands. That’s the same for everyone, no matter where we live or what we do.

But there’s something we can control no matter what our personal situation. Our own response to life. This isn’t easy. In fact it’s probably the hardest thing of all. Often it feels easier to move mountains than control our own minds.

But here in Christchurch, when we feel so helpless in many ways, shifting our priorities to focus on the things we actually can have some small hope of controlling has been a very healthy thing for a lot of people I know.

I’ve been reading some interesting writing recently about how to grow wellbeing and happiness in our lives, and more specifically, the power of gratitude to increase happiness. I have a small daughter, so I’m particularly keen to teach her how she can nurture happiness in her own life. One thing many of these writers emphasise is how making a daily habit of stating things we are grateful for can create a sense of well being, and encourage the habit of savouring life.

Some people keep gratitude journals. And I am a stone cold sucker for nice stationery, so when I saw this puppy, well, the idea of keeping a book of things I am thankful for seemed all the more enticing.

But we as a family have chosen instead to go round the table at supper and ask each other what we are grateful for. Initially it felt contrived. Some days I struggled to think of anything I was thankful for. I was tired, I felt grumpy, work had been hard and I still had three hours of writing to do once I put the small person to bed. What had I got to be grateful for?

Well of course the answer in these situations is always, “so much, you self pitying twerp!”

As soon as I realised that, I begin to remember the good things, the little moments that illuminated a difficult day. I’m not talking about the bigger picture stuff, like the fact that here and now I am incredibly lucky just to have a job, a house and my family around me (although some days, believe me, when I say I feel grateful for these things, I really mean it). I’m thinking about the gilded instants that lift the whole. The moment when, walking home, the sun came out and the bellbirds started singing. The postcard that arrived from a friend. The hug that my daughter gave me when I picked her up from preschool. The little beautiful things. I’m grateful for them.

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A list of things we’ve learned

Ciaran just insisted, in a charming way, that I go and write a damn blog post.

“Even just a list of things we’ve learned,” he said plaintively.

That’s a tough ask for me, because I’m not very good at learning stuff.

I mean I am good at it, if an authoritative, interesting person tells me what I need to know, preferably with the assistance of books and visual aids. A situation otherwise known as school, I believe.

But learning from personal experience? Oh, that’s hard.

But just for him, because he asked so nicely, I’m going to make a big effort.

So what have we learned from a year of not having a car?

  • Contrary to my own expectations, it was actually harder not having a car in the summer months. I thought it would be tough on cold wet winter mornings, when I had to get up in the dark, wrangle a protesting toddler into her pantechnicon and push her to preschool in driving sleet. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff wasn’t exactly fun. But I’m pretty stoical when it comes to stomping around in unpleasant weather.
  • What was more of a bummer was when the weather got all nice and we wanted to go to the beach for a swim/go camping on the weekend/go for a picnic on the peninsula on a sunny Saturday and we couldn’t, because we didn’t have a car.
  • Even though you save money not having a car, who knows where that money goes? In hindsight, we should have been inspired by the quit smoking exercise, taken the money we would have spent on petrol every week and put it in a high interest savings account/sock under the mattress instead. We didn’t. Oh well!
  • Outings that require more than one bus trip become too hard. Although maybe that’s just us being lazy.
    You gain a new appreciation for your immediate surroundings, because you spend a lot more time there. Instead of driving into town to go out, we just walk down the road. Admittedly we pretty much always did that anyway, because we live in Lyttelton and it is frankly much much nicer than Christchurch, but without a car we became even more ferociously local in our focus.
  • Online supermarket shopping rocks. So fantastic. Quicker, easier and cheaper, even with delivery costs, because you don’t impulse buy. And let’s hear it for automated shopping lists! Unfortunately online shopping is currently not a happening thing in Christchurch post quake, but we want it back. Vehemently.  I should also note that it would be very nice if the supermarkets could sort out some form of recyclable delivery container, because it right gets on my tits when we have made an effort to take our canvas bags to the supermarket, and then I get my groceries delivery in about a bazillion plastic bags. Honestly chaps, you can pack more than two cans of tomatoes in a bag. No really you can. Try it. It will astonish you.  And while you are pondering this amazing revelation, how about considering some reusable, branded crates? Think about it, socially, ecologically and ethically responsible, miles of feel good press releases and happy customers. All for piss all effort. Sounds like a winner to me folks. Why thank you, I will take a small mention in your corporate eco-awards winner’s speech.
  • Major natural disasters are not good times to be without a car. When the earth roars under your feet, the buildings fall down, the roads buckle and all public transport has ground to a halt, it is nice to have the option of climbing in your car and getting the hell out of there.
  • It takes balls/stupidity to be car free with a small child, as there are times when they are sick, in the deepest darkest hour of the night before morning and you too are sick with fear, that you really would like to be able to just get in the car and drive somewhere where nice people in white coats will make it all better.
  • Our friends are the most generous people, and when we have really needed a set of wheels, they have given us theirs. Big thanks especially to the beautiful Kate, who lent us her car in that difficult, frightening post quake period, and made it possible for us to get around our broken town and also to get away to the mountains for a break. Thanks also to Lindon and the flying custard square, which he placed at our disposal as a ‘family car’ with his usual grace and generosity. And thank you to Lauren, Daniel and Clara, who lent us their Demio so we could go on dates, and babysat our little girl into the bargain. You guys are the business and we loves you.
  • I should have got a bike. Although, Lyttelton doesn’t have many down sides, but it’s a bit crap for bikes (assuming you want to just use your bike as a form of transport and not as some form of advanced downhill, off road, neon lycra clad insanity). It’s steep and hilly and the rest of the city is through a tunnel you cannot cycle through (although you can put the bike on the front of the buses and ride through the tunnel that way. Lots of people do). Also did I mention I am lazy? Also I’m too vain to wear a bike helmet. Maybe I will make an effort to get over some of these constraints as I actually really enjoy cycling places.
  • I passionately hate ‘cycling gear’. Really people, is it compulsory to look that bad just because you are riding your bike? In some cities people just wear their normal clothes, you know? Actually this is a total tangent and not something I have learnt as a result of being car free at all. But any excuse to air my utter intolerance for taut nylon bottoms is a good excuse.

I Feel Your Pain

Now here’s a thing.

Last week there was a press release and subsequent coverage in NZ newspapers (maybe on tele too but I don’t know cos I don’t have one) about a study and its results.  Named the ‘Commuter Pain Study’ – that in itself should give you an idea of the contents and import of this piece of research – surveying 8,192 motorists in 20 cities on six continents.  Apart from telling us what we probably already knew it has gone a step further and ranked international cities according to an ‘index’.  In NZ the survey covered 937 respondents aged 18-64 years distributed between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  The main points for Aotearoa that the study concluded with were:

– Almost three-quarters of NZ commuters use a car alone to get to work

I don't think this is the way to the beach, man.

– Resulting traffic congestion causing significant stress impacting health and productivity

– Increasing public transportation key to reducing stress caused by commuting

When it came to other solutions the study also had some facts:

Those commuters surveyed recognise that there is significant potential to reduce travel stress by improving public transportation (45 per cent), providing accurate and timely road conditions information (28 per cent) and introducing greater flexibility to work from home (29 per cent).

Now, the study which was commissioned by IBM and is more properly known as the IBM Global Commuter Pain Study also went as far as to say in the media release:

across all New Zealand cities drivers felt that much of this stress could be reduced by the greater use of technology in the management of traffic flows, sophisticated analytics of transport systems…

They don’t offer any actual data on how many or how they reached this conclusion and it didn’t seem to be in the survey index but I wonder if IBM have one or two ideas that might help?  But that’s another story…

Do NOT miss your exit...

Vested interests aside, it seems that the survey revealed some telling information about NZers dependence on private cars for commuting.  According to the study, 80 percent of drivers find aspects of their commute frustrating.  At least a quarter of respondents believe that traffic has negatively affected their health although this number varied regionally.

In the article based on this media release published by The Press (Christchurch) they immediately went out to get some vox pops on the findings.  Even though Christchurch has a public transport system that I would rate as very good several ‘people on the street’ described the buses as ‘just gross’ or unsatisfactory in a number of ways, therefore they continued to use their car to commute.  Apparently sitting in traffic literally idling money away, pumping poisonous gases into the air, and ‘negatively affecting their health’ by being a solo occupant of a motor car is preferable.

I feel like pointing out to those ‘buses are gross’ people that by commuting on the bus I not only save money, but I don’t have to find parking, I get to read or talk to friends, or do this, or experience this.

The study pointed out that only 10 per cent of NZers car-pool regularly.  Bizarre – if we doubled that we’d significantly reduce the cars on the road during the commute rush hours as well as halve (or better) our individual fuel and parking costs.  Auckland’s traffic problems would be majorly improved overnight.  And almost everyone’s wellbeing could be improved.

 

Among those who believe that traffic has negatively affected their health, increased stress (77 per cent) and anger (41 per cent) are the primary symptoms.  As many as 28 per cent of drivers believe that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work, university or school.

Many commuters feel that if their daily commute was reduced there are many other things they would do with their time including exercise (51 per cent), spend time with family (48 per cent) or sleep (30 per cent).

All that stress and anger and lost productivity – when you’d rather be exercising (playing), spending time with family & whanau (playing) or ‘sleeping’ (playing).  And it’s self-inflicted.

You poor things.

A Kiwi Kinda Christmas. Kinda.

Well I’ve gone and started it now, haven’t I?

Got us all thinking about Xmas (not that you could avoid it in all honesty).  So I thought I’d put it out there in a Tyranny of Convenience kinda way to find out what your ideal or fantasy Christmas would look like and what your actual Christmas is going to look like.

Years ago my family started to have picnics on Christmas day – we live in the southern hemisphere, don’tcha know – and after all it’s usually hot and sunny on the 25th.  It was a kind of revelation.  All my life we’d had the ‘traditional’ northern hemisphere Christmas experience – our parents were from Northern Ireland – and we were brought up with hot turkey, stuffing, vegetables and hot Christmas pudding with custard etc.  Eaten inside on a 28 degree day isn’t really what you wanted as a kid with a brand new water pistol from Santa.

Likewise the trappings were all northern hemisphere-oriented: wrapping paper with snow and sleighs and reindeer; tree decorations with snow globes, tinsel snow etc.  Everywhere you looked – winter.  And this wasn’t just our family of course – the whole damn country was obsessed with Christmas ‘back home.’  Everywhere you went you were beaten around the head with carols like White Christmas and Jingle Bells.  All totally meaningless to a southern hemisphere culture in December when you stop and think about it.

Our Christmas tree - Aotearoa-style

And yet, I loved it.  I’m not for an instant suggesting that I was in any way deprived as a result of a culturally topsy turvy Christmas.  It’s just a strange fact.  Slowly over the years, New Zealand has been creating a Christmas iconography all of its own.  BBQs and beaches are replacing snow-filled countrysides as the settings for festivities.  Kiwis (the bird, that is) wearing jandals, floppy sun hats and sunglasses deliver presents to kids playing beach cricket, wearing zinc and swimming trunks while mums and dads lounge around the bbq on deck chairs with ice cold beer or perhaps a glass of sauvignon blanc.  There’s a great kids book called ‘A Kiwi Night Before Christmas‘ recasting the classic rhyme in a kiwi setting:

It was the night before Christmas, and all round the bach

Not a possum was stirring; not one we could catch.

We left on the table a meat pie and beer,

In hopes that Santa Claus soon would be here.

Who inevitably arrives on his trusty tractor complete with sheepdog.  And there’s been one or two attempts at some kiwi christmas carols too.  Perhaps the most memorable  by Lindon Puffin ‘Pohutakawa Xmas’ – which seems to annually duke it out with Snoopy’s Christmas for the top spot on the Yuletide Charts.  I wish I could link you to it – it sums up a southern hemisphere xmas experience perfectly.

Nowadays our annual xmas lunch generally revolves around a gourmet BBQ but there’s still some ‘traditional’ elements of our past – roast turkey, ham, Christmas pudding.  But our tree is a Rata in full bloom – alive! Which is how you tend to feel at this time of year.  We’ll gorge ourselves beyond what is seemly, drink far too much wine, there’s bound to be at least 3 types of dessert including 2 trifles and the whole thing followed by the richest xmas cake known to mankind with whisky and wearing those daft wee paper hat crowns from Christmas Crackers while endlessly reciting sketches from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and singing old TV theme tunes. If we don’t haul ourselves out for a stroll to the timeball it’ll be  snooze o’clock for all concerned.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way, except maybe…

This post was inspired by an article on one of my favourite websites right now The Idle Parent (check out the manifesto!) about their ‘fantasy family Christmas’.  It’s a cracker, I hope you enjoy it and I hope you are finding and making your peace out there, wherever you are.

So, your fantasy yuletide vs. the reality? – let’s have it!

What to give the planet for Christmas?

Saw this on one of our favourite websites World Sweet World.  It’s the precis for an article on building your own bike trailer – something we had our own feature on this year…

While around a quarter of all the energy we use in New Zealand is for transport, two thirds of the trips we actually make are less than six kilometres. If you calculate the embedded energy used to get your food on your table (how much energy is used for the farmer to fertilise the field, to run the tractor, package it, transport it to market, etc.), you are likely to double that amount by driving to the supermarket to do the shopping. It’s relatively easy to make big energy savings here and you’ll be better off health- and wallet-wise in the process.

–          World Sweet World – Steven Muir, Issue #9

So, what to give the planet for Christmas?

How about a break?

Camping Deluxe

Given the developing conversation in the comments section of the previous post, I thought I’d start a little thread on that most divisive of topics – camping: lean & mean or lush & lazy, emphasis on the ‘lush’.

Are you the type to ditch the car and walk for days, sleeping in tiny, lightweight hiking tents, subsisting on scroggin and water from your environmentally-sound steel water bottle?  Or are you more likely to load up the 4×4 with everything from the solar shower to the case of fine wine, herb & spice rack and the foam mattress?

To pee in the wilderness or look for a camping ground with ablution and kitchen blocks, recreation centre and powered camp sites?

Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle.  Maybe you like both, some of the time?

Ahhh, the simple life...

Me? I must say I like to camp near the sea or rivers so I don’t much need a shower block and I prefer to camp in quiet places because I can make enough noise all by myself – you should hear my guitar-playing.  Then again, maybe you shouldn’t.  So that kind of rules out busy camping grounds with all the facilities.  BUT I do love taking nice food, good wine and cold beer.  I like deck chairs at sunset with drinks holders; fresh coffee and B&E for brekkie. I also like that old foam mattress instead of the closed cell mats which feel more like you’re sleeping on a layer of second hand Mills & Boon paperbacks.

I once spent the most incredible ten days four-wheel-driving and camping with my sister and brother-in-law in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.  Our days spent exploring some of the oldest rock landscapes in the world and seeing incredible wildlife, plants and views to leave you speechless.  We’d race to pitch the tents, avoiding the ever-present ant armies, and get the chairs set up for an ice-cold Coopers under the vivid, red sunsets.  Nights camped under millions of stars drinking and eating excellent food prepared from scratch (it was generally a 3 person job – one to cook and two to swat the flies away) and eating pistachios and chocolate.  Not too shabby eh.  We were literally days driving from any other humans and most of the areas for camping were little more than lines on a map – no facilities whatsoever.  But we had the trusty 4×4 and a large chilly bin. (Esky, cooler, whatever).  Two essential conveniences.  The best trip of my life.  Now, those guys know how to camp.

I suppose I’ve been a little bit spoilt by that experience ever since.  Anyway, that’s why I’m kinda excited about the prospect of camping on those guys farm over the New Year…

61 acres of cloud... eat yer heart out!

Obviously it won’t be snowing then…

And I’ve found some inspiration for future luxury camping ideas – I’ll leave you with this little image of bliss in the wilderness:

So, which kind of camper are you?

How do I know I’m Flourishing?

At the regular spoken word & poetry open mic night that I host we have a kind of unwritten rule about disclaimers.  That is, we don’t have no truck with them.  The people don’t want to hear your excuses.

I wonder if the blogosphere has the same principle.  That is, it’s poor form to start off a post apologising for not posting lately.  I suppose it’s a pretty boring and obvious thing to say isn’t it?  And there’s nothing more tedious than telling people all about how busy you’ve been.  Especially when they didn’t ask.

Especially if there’s no one reading…

But then again isn’t the entire blogosphere all about telling you stuff you didn’t ask about?

I bet you didn’t know you wanted to know all about it.

Weeelll.  Enough said.  Here we are.

So how has our little battle with convenience been going?  Thank you for asking.  It’s been sick.  And I don’t mean in the Australian use of the word ‘seeck’.  Not even ‘fully seeck’.  I mean the kind of sick that sees you making your nostrils raw while simultaneously destroying every hanky in the house and resorting to toilet paper, scrap paper and old t-shirts if necessary.  Also the kind of sick that has you exploding out every orifice normally reserved for more genteel activities.

Think Neil from The Young Ones.

Such has been the stuff of our winter.  Seraphine’s first winter attending pre-school where they should advertise free immune system load testing.  We’re now deep into spring and staring down the barrel of a good, hot summer and still I seem to be battling sore throats and leaky noses.  Not all my hankies have survived.

In real life, I spend a lot of time thinking, talking about and promoting wellbeing.  In particular us mental health promoters are taken with this idea of flourishing. What does it look like?  What does it mean for us and our society?  And how do we get there?  How do I know I’m flourishing?

Despite what I was saying earlier, I think I’m the fittest I’ve been in years.  At least, before the last week or so of flu-imposed inactivity.  I also find it doesn’t take much to set me back a notch, having now not played football for a couple of weeks.  I put the fitness down not only to playing the beautiful game again but having the hill walking routine imposed everyday, commiting to using the stairs at work and cycling more.  In fact I was feeling so good I volunteered to participate in this.  A little bit of fitness going to my head.  Sheesh.  But it’s a clue.

The point is, I do feel good.  And lately being car-free has not been easy.  We’ve seen off the worst that winter could throw at us (although no snow this year) but now the weather is picking up rapidly and the great wide open is beckoning.  The far-off, secluded little bays on the peninsula; the wild West Coast; my sister’s little slice of Rohan in the mountains.  Easy to survive not having a car when the best activity is red wine and a DVD.

It’s peak season now for renting cars so it’s not so cheap to get one to travel in.  Even so, we’re planning on renting something for a couple of weeks over Christmas while nearly the entire House of Davidson visits us.  It’s going to be a BIG family Christmas, and I’m looking forward to that too.  There’s so much to look forward to actually.  And that’s another clue.

Seraphine is a rambunctious little toddler now.  The days are getting hot.  There’s family coming to stay.  Christmas is approaching.  I’ve got a NEW tent (more on that).  I’ve only used my hanky twice today.  Yip, I’m feeling pretty positive.  It seems like ages ago now but it’s not that long since we started this blog and I wrote optimistically about Loving The Effort.  And it’s become a sort of personal mantra for the tough times.  In fact it’s the second most common tag for our posts (after ‘Car-Free’) and it’s kind of the apotheosis of our thesis around defying convenience.

Earlier in the week I was lying in a hot bath trying to revive myself enough to go to work and facilitate a workshop on this whole darn flourishing idea.  I’d initially thought to cancel the workshop but as I lay soaking in the hot, deep bath (oh, thank you Elizabeth!) and even though I was quite ill I kept thinking about the 20 or so people who were coming to the workshop and all the challenges they’d faced to get to where they were.  I thought about loving the effort and how, despite currently feeling a bit crook, I was actually doing OK and I realised that our message about flourishing was about just this kind of thing – regardless of the times when we get sick or the other limitations we might face, and we all face these at some point in our lives, we can and sometimes do, flourish.  But not enough of us.

Anyway, whether it was the force of this idea or the restorative power of a hot bath, strong coffee and paracetamol, I made it to the workshop.  We talked all about it and what it meant for each of us and decided we thought it a pretty damn good goal for society.

I then went home again and collapsed.

So.  My thoughts on some of the ways I know personally I’m flourishing:

When loving the effort means you’re not just gritting your teeth through what you must get through but actually seeking out new challenges and enlarging your efforts.

When despite currently being unwell you see the bigger picture of your overall wellbeing and fitness and it’s good and getting better.

When you feel like there’s lots to look forward to.

When you’re sick as a dog but you feel compelled to go out and talk to people and hear their good ideas.

When you’ve got no car but you can’t resist buying a flash new tent! Which we got for a song.  Actually that’s not really about flourishing but I’m looking forward to using it!

So anyway, it’s good to be back.

Car-free in an earthquake?

Well, of the 25 days since ‘the big one’ we’ve had the use of a car for over 2 weeks, thanks to Kate Kate who has been away for most of the time and left us her car to use.

It’s HARD!  I’m finding all this cheating is making me weak.  Although I did really enjoy the walk up the hill last night in glorious setting sunshine with a warm nor’west breeze in my face.

I’m really missing having a car.  It made it much easier to visit Grilly after the earthquake to check on her instead of the epic bus journey involved.  But I suppose I’m just really appreciating having the use of one.  I’m still determined to be car-free for a year but it has certainly made me mindful of enjoying driving (and convenience) while I can.

Anyway, blah blah.  In the immortal words of Garfield “I’ll be funny again tomorrow, I promise.”

But what about the internet?

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958

This little morsel was posted on Eat Smart Age Smart: (not a recommended website BTW)

Researchers found that how much time New Zealand children spend watching television is a better predictor of obesity than what they eat or how much they exercise. The study found that 41 percent of the children who were overweight by age 26 were those who had watched the most TV.

Well we’ve already been TV-free for more than 7 years.  But that was easy to give up…

It’s the best bike shop in the world, but bugger me it’s in Islington

This breaks my heart.

As the delightful Ms Sam Warland* said only this very day, “My Christmas list just got a whole lot longer”.

And I don’t even have a bike (yet).

Things to love about this place:

  • It’s called Bobbin Bicycles.
  • They sell a bicycle helmet in the shape of a bowler hat.
  • And yellow leather driving gloves, with that sexxxy cut out on the back of the hand. Rowwwrrrr. Down sir!
  • And a ‘Hello Sailor’ reflective collar.
  • And bicycles, lots of cute bicycles, but I don’t really care about the bicycles that much, I only put that in because otherwise you might think I am an accessory obsessed gurrl.

Things not to like:

  • It’s in Islington.
  • The prices are in pounds.
  • It’s in Islington.

That is all.

*Whose many charms cannot be enumerated on the fingers of my three hands.